Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is a fresh twist on Jane Austen's widely celebrated novel. A mysterious plague has fallen upon 19th century England, the land is overrun with the undead and feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is a master of martial arts and weaponry. Casting aside personal and social prejudices, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy must unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to rid the country of the zombie menace and discover their true love for one another.
Amid the gory bloodshed, the sudden, unexpected frenzied bursts of violence and the impending threat of the apocalypse, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' dares to ask a critically important question. Can the social order and class system survive a zombie outbreak? Silly as that may sound, the makers of this adaptation of the book by Seth Grahame-Smith — which itself is a reimagining of Jane Austen's classic novel of manners — don't shy away from this theme. In fact, characters openly and even brazenly talk about it. This is particularly true in the ridiculously polite tit-for-tat squabbles of our two main heroes and eventual sweethearts, Colonel Darcy (an intentionally stiff and arrogantly snobbish Sam Riley) and Elizabeth Bennet (a very meek and humble Lily James). At a dinner party, he boldly proclaims a woman is more attractive when mastering the feminine arts rather than combat skills, and Elizabeth answers soon after with her knowledge of Sun Tzu's The Art of War. The two go back and forth for a good chunk of the runtime until words are exchanged for fists, the tension suddenly erupting into a hand-to-hand conflict about halfway through the movie where they discover to be equals.
As entertaining as that fight sequence is on its own — a dazzling choreography that would feel as comfortable and natural in, say, a Jason Bourne film — the brawl is accentuated by a very dry sense of humor. With tongue firmly pressed against the cheek, the pair sling words and insults as swiftly as they swing punches and kicks, a verbal contest of wit matched only by the speed of each blow. They reveal as much about their feelings towards each other as they do their ability to handle themselves against the zombie horde. And the whole thing is intended for laughs, a series of deadpan performances that metaphorically speak to Austen's novel and the stifling pressure of cultural norms undermining a character's ability to express themselves. It's made all the more apparent when Matt Smith shows up as the overly prim and proper Parson Collins, a minister with intentions of marrying Elizabeth. Or any of the other sisters, for that matter. Admittedly, Smith also runs the risk of ruining much of the film's straight-faced comedy in a couple spots, but then again, his presence reminds viewers to not take anything too serious or at face value.
Director Burr Steers, who also wrote the script, does excellent with the laconic language of early 19th Century aristocracy. Although the conversations appear authentic and quite romanticized, there is still something humorously ridiculous and exaggeratingly formal about the way each interacts with the other. Whether it's with the Bennet sisters sparring or Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey), Darcy's aunt, discussing Elizabeth's intentions with her already betrothed nephew, there is a subversive snideness lurking beneath the seemingly cultured and refined tête-à-tête. When the charming and exceedingly polite Wickham (Jack Huston) makes his appearance, the character ironically speaks with a more straightforward and blunt demeanor. But this is part of his character trait, for him to more easily prowl the social circles of the upper class undetected or be more readily accepted, winning Elizabeth's trust without much effort. His real purpose is part of a larger reveal that will not be ruined here, but it's another great bit of comedy that remains true to Austen's original design while still feeling fresh and new.
For many, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' will be a muddling mashup of classic literature and today's current undead craze that misses its mark and fails to satisfy, as can be seen by box-office returns and critical responses. And to some extent, those viewers make a point because admittedly, some jokes don't really have much of a bite and others are not quite as infectious. However, for those who can appreciate the mix of dry wit with stylized action and gore will be pleasantly surprised with this concoction of straight-faced absurdity. Honestly, I rather admire the filmmakers' approach to the source with deadpan humor. In a time, when many over-the-top comedies are self-referential as part of the gag, which is not a wholly bad thing, it's somewhat refreshing to have a production fully embrace the material for what it is and ride unabashedly towards the zombie apocalypse at full throttle. Like the scene when Darcy and Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) first witness the Bennet sisters confidently vanquish a swarm of the walking dead crashing a formal ball, you will stand in puzzled awe at the well-mannered carnage, but give the young ladies some time to charm their way into your heart.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify the size of the content, or if the disc is dual-layered or tripled-layered. The new UHD disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-vortex case. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive main menu that changes screens when switching between the usual options while music plays in the background.
The Bennet sisters defy the social order while wiping the floor with the bloody goo of zombies thanks to an Ultra HD Blu-ray showcasing an excellent HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, which arrives day-and-date as its Blu-ray counterpart, giving early adopters the opportunity to compare the differences. And as in the case of other such new releases, the results offer several noteworthy improvements, making this UHD version the clear winner over the BD, but the difference between them is not exactly the major upgrade we'd expect of the format. Though to be fair, the horror comedy rises from the grave with heavily stylized photography by the talented Remi Adefarasin, showing several intentionally soft moments and a somewhat restrained appeal, which I'll get to in a moment.
Nevertheless, the overall video does show sharper definition and clarity throughout, allowing viewers to better appreciate the ornate embroidery and unique design of the costumes. We can plainly make out the weathered crinkles in Darcy's leather jacket and the elaborate patterns in all his other dark clothing. The tiniest blemish, freckle, pore and wrinkle is exposed in the faces of the cast, and the zombies are particularly more gruesome, juicier and often incredibly lifelike, as ooze drips from open wounds and blood trickles down the side of mouths. Every mark, pit and imperfection in the wood and stone of the buildings is discernible, even in poorly-lit sequences, such as when the sisters are sparring in the basement. The veins and lines in the individual leaves of trees are incredibly well-defined, and each blade of grass remains distinct from a distance, swaying and moving in the wind with incredible realism. The razor sharp details are definitely one area viewers will note a significant difference between the two formats.
Shot entirely on digital cameras with elements that were later mastered in a 2K digital intermediate, the freshly-minted transfer also enjoys an excellently well-balanced high dynamic range, making for a brighter and tad more dazzling presentation than the Blu-ray. Spot-on contrast allows for outstanding visibility into the far distance with several exceptional, looking-through-a-window moments of the English countryside. Brilliant, pitch-perfect whites keep the picture vivid and immaculate with distinct differences in the clouds, the smaller pieces of drapery decorating the homes of characters and the various articles of clothing. Arguably, one the video's strongest aspects can be seen in scenes with candles and fire, of which there are many, because each flame lapping into the air is distinctly unique with an intense reddish-orange glow. Brightness levels are also superb, displaying inky rich, full-bodied blacks with exceptional gradational differences in the darkest sequences, creating several amazing three-dimensional images.
As mentioned earlier, the digital photography comes with a deliberately subdued tone that matches the story's horror elements, creating a noticeably dreary, overcast appeal. However, it would appear the source has been color graded so as to take advantage of the wider color gamut, and the results, for the most part, are first-rate. The palette displays a sumptuous array of energetic, richly saturated primaries that make the visuals come to life. Red, crimson blood is just a tad gooier and more maroon while greens appear more vivid and realistic, making much of the surrounding vegetation pop off the screen. The other pastel hues remain first-rate and full-bodied, energizing every scene with a warmth and richness that's quite catching and highly attractive, making this an excellent 4K presentation.
The zombies roam free in the outskirts of the In-Between with an excellent, near-reference Dolby Atmos soundtrack that terrifically complements the mix of action-packed visuals and the witty conversations. Similar to its DTS-HD MA counterpart on Blu-ray, for a good chunk of the runtime, the surrounds are employed rather sparingly with many noticeable pockets of silence. But this is arguably understandable, seeing as how the plot and movie is as much dialogue-driven as it is spurred on by one scene of mayhem after another. Still, those action sequences are very satisfying, filling the room with debris flying all around, from the sides and ceiling while convincingly landing in the back. Such moments suck the listener into the middle of the action with excellent directional cues that flawlessly pan from one speaker to the next. Quieter moments come with ambient effects that subtly spread overhead, like crows squawking high above in the sky, flies buzzing all around or the echo of voices resonating with realism. On the whole, the design makes for an immersive and engaging dome-like soundfield.
For a majority of the time, the action is carried by the front soundstage, generating a wide and spacious presence with a great deal of appreciable warmth and fidelity. Littered with lots of background activity, from the softest hint of footsteps to the chatter of people at the ball, imaging exhibits superb distinction in the mid-range and outstanding separation with fluid movement across all three channels and convincing off-screen effects. Fernando Velázquez's score not only displays a clean distinction in the instrumentation, but it nicely bleeds to the front heights for a terrifically engaging wall of sound. Compared to the Blu-ray, this is the one area where listeners will note an improvement between the two lossless mixes. Most impressive is a surprisingly authoritative and strikingly powerful low-end that gives every gunshot, explosion and action sequence an awesome palpable weight, and there are a couple wall-rattling ultra-low moments that those with the proper equipment will appreciate (bass chart). Amid the zombie chaos and bloody mayhem, vocals remain precise and well-prioritized in the center.
'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' is a silly horror comedy that will very likely put off many with its deadpan humor. A few bits of dialogue hint at the story's sillier aspects, with Matt Smith's performance practically giving away the joke, but the premise alone of reimagining the themes of a beloved classic novel reinforced by an impending zombie apocalypse should be more than enough to entertain.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with an excellent 4K video presentation. Though the heavily stylized photography keeps the video from truly shining, it nonetheless offers several demo-worthy moments that should please fans. Added to that, the movie arrives with a satisfying, near-reference Dolby Atmos audio presentation, joined by the same collection of supplements featured in its Blu-ray counterpart. Overall, the package is recommended for loyal fans and early adopters enthusiastic about the new format.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.